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Learning to Love Frank Black

On my counter at home there lie two new albums by Frank Black, who is kind of my personal hero. I've been putting off listening to them because of a certain defect of taste: I am terrible at recognizing good music the first time through. I fall for easy hooks and fail to enjoy anything remotely complex unless someone sits me down and forces me to listen to it, over and over again, pushing me …


Columbia FAQ

Found on Slashdot, an excellent FAQ about the Columbia disaster by people who actually know what they are talking about. A comprehensive, unbiased, and very long text file. You are not allowed to post about foam impact until you read this.…


White Elephant

There's a dispiriting article in the Washington Post this week entitled "Space Shuttles Bound to Technologies of the Past". It's not dispiriting for what it says - there are good points, and quotes from knowledgeable people - but rather for a certain kind of attitude towards technology that shows the science rep…



If you speak Russian, you should pay a visit to the wonderful collaborative site at dirty.ru (don't worry, it's completely work-safe).

Think of it as a beautifully designed, more succinct BoingBoing. But in Russian.…



Caterina.net writes about the sex life of bacteria. Aren't Sundays great?

You can have sex, with males possessing a sexual apparatus for transferring genetic information to receptive females. However, since you are both going 30 mph it is difficult to find each other. Further…


Nitrogen Exposure

Sloppy journalism in the Washington Post today. An article about past problems with Columbia includes this statement:

Two workers died from nitrogen gas exposure after entering an engine compartment.

But of course they mean workers asphyxiated by a nitrogen blanket. If you…


The Future Is Boring

Last night Michael Jordan scored over 40 points in a basketball game. I remarked on this to the better half, who replied "Michael Jordan? I thought he was dead."


Over the last few days I have been reading a lot about proteins - protein structure, protein folding, how proteins interact with DNA to control gene expression. It is absolutel…


Ready.gov Inspires All

More Ready.gov parodies - the tidal wave begins!…


Helping Americans Prepare For Fiery Death

The Department of Homeland Security has a website up with instructions on protecting yourself from terrorist attack. Just in time for our new war!

Here's a remix (with help from nobody's doll).…



I want to welcome the new Idle Words mascot, a handsome Antarctic ocean pout. For you RSS readers, I'm talking about a fish who has taken up residence on my home page, a sort of piscine banner ad. Come out of your aggregator and pay him a visit. The ocean pout is notable for his extreme endurance to cold: even though the waters he frequents are below the fresh water freezing point, he conta…


False Pretenses

I don't much like to write about politics, but it's a day for strong feelings about the impending war.

So here is my own position: I'm pissed off at being treated like an idiot.

Specifically, I'm pissed off at being asked to believe that the most imminent threat to our safety, in an age of militant religious Islamic terrorism, is a third-rate secularist dictator whose ass we have …


Boo Hoo

Dave Winer, you should know that it's considered bad form to move to the Northeast and start whining about the cold. It's not like we kept it a secret.

You should know it's also bad form to complain about wind chill. Wind chill is bogus. Wind chill is for sissies. If you want to talk cold, give me yo…


Automated Checkout: Interfaces Attack!

Our local grocery store recently got one of these automated checkout counters. I don't know how prevalent they are, I assume if they've shown up in Vermont, then they've already shown up everywhere else on God's green earth.

checkout scanner


Wolfram Speaks!

The O'Reilly Bioinformatics conference was a happy old pot luck. Proteins over here, starches over there, a vector-space model or two in the soup tureen. There were biologists just getting into computing, and programmers just getting in to biology, and a very smart few who had been doing both for many years. And there were winter refugees like me, grasping at any excuse to visit San Diego …


California Is Different

There is a plaque in the men's room on the third floor of the San Diego Westin hotel with a stern reminder that alcohol can do permanent and irretrievable damage to unborn children, and that pregnant women SHOULD NOT drink, under any circumstances. It is a pretty arresting plaque.

Was there some kind of problem here with weak-bladdered playboys, besozzling the local expectant mothers …


Apple Targets Scientists

Apple has set up a computer lab at the O'Reilly Bioinformatics conference, and all the stops are out. Cinema displays everywhere - also talks coming up about using Mac hardware for scientific computing. "Have genome, will travel". It looks like they are trying hard to capture the scientific computing market. No complaints from me.

Anil li…


Among The Biogeeks Of San Diego

I'm in San Diego, sitting in the lobby of the Westin Hotel with a bunch of other computer addicts. Everybody is here for the bioinformatics conference, and the O'Reilly people have set us up a wireless network. We come like moths to the flame. If you are wondering what I know about biology, the answer is "More than ever!".

Nobody here is having a good hair day.

I had a devil of…

Idle Words

brevity is for the weak

Greatest Hits

The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel
The story of America's most awesome infrastructure project.

Argentina on Two Steaks A Day
Eating the happiest cows in the world

Scott and Scurvy
Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

No Evidence of Disease
A cancer story with an unfortunate complication.

Controlled Tango Into Terrain
Trying to learn how to dance in Argentina

Dabblers and Blowhards
Calling out Paul Graham for a silly essay about painting

Attacked By Thugs
Warsaw police hijinks

Dating Without Kundera
Practical alternatives to the Slavic Dave Matthews

A Rocket To Nowhere
A Space Shuttle rant

Best Practices For Time Travelers
The story of John Titor, visitor from the future

100 Years Of Turbulence
The Wright Brothers and the harmful effects of patent law

Every Damn Thing

Every Damn Thing

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